Coffee House

Books and the justice establishment

4 April 2014

Every politician who engages in major reform ends up with scars on their back. Tony Blair famously complained about those scars from grappling with the public sector, while Michael Gove mostly relishes his tussles with the education establishment that he likes to call the ‘Blob’. But the education world isn’t the only one with a big, scary blob wibbling about with rage whenever a minister embarks on reform. In my Telegraph column today I look at the justice ‘Blob’, which has scored a pretty impressive scar on Chris Grayling with a campaign about a ban on books for prisoners which isn’t quite as it seems.

Books are a useful weapon for the Blob, but other fights are taking place in the justice world at the moment. The Pulic Law Project is currently bringing a judicial review against Grayling for his residence test, which means that people in civil cases who are not lawfully resident in the UK and have not been lawfully resident for 12 months do not have access to legal aid. The PLP says these changes will restrict access to justice for a large number of people.


The Blobs may be made up of different groups in different worlds: the education establishment is dominated by angry trade unions while the justice battleground contains many more charitable organisations which, like the Howard League for Penal Reform, are very good campaigners. The campaign on books for prisoners is hugely impressive, even if it passes over the access that prisoners do have to books. Likewise, there is something admirable about the teaching unions managing to call strikes on pay and conditions which appear to be as much about their dislike of Michael Gove’s education reforms more generally.

This isn’t to say that the establishment in each sector is always wrong or unhelpfully conservative while every reforming minister is wise and entirely well-informed. The legal aid cuts have been controversial (Spectator writers disagree on whether they are a good thing, with Harry Mount arguing in the magazine that Grayling is right to reform legal aid and Willard Foxton arguing on Coffee House that the cuts are clogging up justice), and the government has had to amend its original plans because of concerns from justice campaigners. But those cuts haven’t garnered quite the same publicity or celebrity endorsement as the ‘books ban’, which is what makes those books for prisoners such an effective device for those who disagree with Grayling’s overall reforms to get more attention for their cause.

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  • Equaloiter

    You use the word “justice” without defining it let alone demonstrating any link between the protagonists engaged in the row over the Grayling cuts.
    There is no justice in the Ministry of Justice.
    Nor is there any in the courts of law.
    There is a lot of is talk of justice, without a doubt!
    That is not the same as access to, advocacy for let alone availability or delivery of justice through what is the licensed law traders’ profession and forums.
    If there was a movement or a campaign to introduce justice then you could be justified to use the word.
    There is no movement or campaign for justice in the UK now.
    There hasn’t been one for ages.
    So you should stop using that very misleading word.

  • Kitty MLB

    Never mind the scars on the back of the smiling villain Blair,
    what happened to superhero Miliband’s reforms ? just asking.
    Although Grayling is better then that spaniel Clarke, not too much has changed
    in the world of justice.
    Why should prisoners have books, they should not be allowed luxuries.
    Also Mr Grayling why can’t we send Labour party MP’s to prison- its just not right.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The Conservatives in power have been singularly useless on justice. One might think the party that had one of their MPs nicked as a result of a New Labour and Police stitch up might take a more enlightened view. Grieve is useless as well and stood idly by while the cultural revolutionary Starmer turned the CPS into the prosecution wing of the loony left.

  • anyfool

    When the government stops funding these so called charities, you would find they are not quite as good at campaigning as you think.
    A whipping boy buying the whip comes to mind.

  • kyalami

    When “justice” forbids us from deporting a Mafia don to Italy then I’m all for reform.

    • dado_trunking

      Is that what they told you? And you believed it?

      • kyalami

        It’s widely reported in reputable sources.

        • dado_trunking

          It is also widely known that we have international and bilateral agreements as to how to proceed in these instances. Our jails are full here? Then build another one, it’ll be good news for the construction industry . . .

        • ClausewitzTheMunificent

          Widely reported by whom? The likely problem is that the necessary evidence is lacking. Are you suggesting we should do away with justice-by-evidence as it were?

          • kyalami

            No, I am not. If you take the trouble to read the reports, from left and right wing press, you will be better informed.

            • ClausewitzTheMunificent

              I apologise, it appears that you are right in this case. Still this is an ECR (farcetown) question, which one can’t really reform. Best to just get rid of the thing. Scandalous that a sovereign nation can’t imprison a dangerous criminal with blood on his hands.

              • kyalami

                My word. Are you sure you belong on this board? No one EVER apologises! :-)

    • ClausewitzTheMunificent

      Well mayhap we should deport some dodgy Englishmen from Tuscany. Some of those banker types are almost certain to have criminal connections.

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